Lee got up and moved to Trev’s side of the booth. He had his phone out and up to take a picture. He wrapped one arm around Trev and pulled him in close enough to be in frame.
Trev focused on getting a good photo, a smile that looked happy and not afraid. He had to look natural. Lee smiled but, at the last minute, turned his face to kiss Trev’s cheek. The photo was pretty adorable. It was like every couple who was really dating. Lee let Trev hold the phone and look at it. “Why we come here so much, even though it’s off campus.”
Suddenly Lee froze, though he withdrew his arm from around Trev. He paled when a black guy about their age sauntered toward them.
“Hey, Lee. Thought all that packing today was because you were heading out. Who’s this guy?”
Lee frowned and shrugged. “Hey, Jack. Trev’s just a friend.”
“A friend I’ve never met?” Jack smirked at them both. “Did I see you kiss him?”
“We were just messing around, man.” Lee waved it off.
Jack chuckled. “Is that
what you’re calling it?”
Trev wasn’t sure what was going on, but Lee didn’t seem very happy about being caught. Lee stared down at his food while Jack smirked.
“It’s complicated. I’m trolling my parents.” Trev offered his hand to Jack. It felt like he was doing his best impersonation of his father, all business and confidence. “Nice to meet you, Jack. Trevelyan Whitcombe. Are you a friend of Lee’s?”
Trev sized the man up, wearing a pleasantly neutral expression, and waited for shit to hit the fan. Was Lee going to bail on him now? Fuck. This was a terrible idea. The whole thing. All of it.
“Yeah, his best friend, I thought.” Jack raised a brow at the both of them. There was a twinkle in his eye that suggested Lee was probably going to get so much shit over this, even as Jack shook Trev’s hand. “What is this trolling-your-parents thing? What’s that got to do with Lee here putting his lips on a stranger?”
Lee exhaled. “Jack, leave it. I’m just helping a guy out.”
Jack snorted. “And you said you weren’t getting laid.”
“Man. Come on.” Lee’s face was bright red, which was some consolation since Trev’s face was burning hot.
“This who you’re staying with over break? You’ve been so secretive.” Jack looked between them like he was evaluating the likelihood of the match. “Your girlfriend know you’re stepping out on her?”
Trev frowned at Jack. What was his problem? Homophobe? Jerk? “Look, I’m sure his girlfriend has nothing to worry about from me. I needed a picture to show my parents, who refuse to believe I’m queer. Lee was nice enough to play along with it. That’s all. I’m buying him a burger to return his kindness.”
Was that stupid to confess? Trev couldn’t tell if it made him seem weak. His voice didn’t betray him, though. It was strong and clear, and he made fearless eye contact. He’d dealt with plenty of assholes, and he wasn’t worried about this one.
Lee sighed heavily. “She’s not my girlfriend.” He turned to Trev and rolled his eyes. “He’s talking about Michelle.” He returned his gaze to Jack. “And she knows; she set this up. Look, don’t worry your pretty little head about it, all right, dude?”
Jack’s grin brightened. “Sure. I won’t worry about it. Hey, Trevelyan, can I get a copy of that picture for some friends?”
At that, Lee got up and started bodily moving his friend from the area. “Be cool, man. Come on.”
“Hey, Trevelyan, you break his heart, I’ll break your face!” Jack said it in a high, jokey way, but serious emotion passed over his face.
The waitress watched them warily. Trev shot her an apologetic smile and then waved good-bye to Jack. The waitress returned, approaching slowly as if expecting Jack to make a break for the table.
“Everything okay, sir?”
Trev sighed and nodded. “Yeah, sorry about that. The food’s great. Everything’s great.”
She shot another troubled glance at Lee, like she wanted to make sure the golden boy was all right, but then she nodded to Trev and headed off to check on her other tables. Trev drank his coffee while he waited for Lee to return from shuffling Jack out. Whatever moment of explanation Lee needed, Trev wasn’t going to invade their privacy.
If Lee was straight—and it seemed statistically likely he was, didn’t it?—he’d need a minute to clear things up. Or if he was just in the closet. One or the other.
Whatever was going on outside appeared to culminate in bro punches to shoulders and a chest bump, so apparently all was well in dudebro land. Jock cred reestablished.
When Lee returned, his expression had gone from all smiles outside to flat with a touch of worried brow. He resumed his seat, stared at his cold burger for a moment, took a deep breath, and then grinned at Trev. “Sorry about that. The guys get really nosy. I was hoping to avoid that by going off campus, but I guess this wasn’t quite off campus enough.”
Lee rubbed his forehead. “He’s a good guy, really. He’s not gonna mess with us or anything.”
“Yeah.” Trev picked at his omelet, glancing up from his meal to take in Lee’s expression. “Listen, if this is going to be a problem for you…I won’t hold you to it. I don’t want to ruin your reputation or whatever. If your bros are going to flip their wigs that you spent the summer with a queer guy, then… But I mean, I wasn’t going to tell everyone we spent the summer together. I would have just parted ways when we came back, let you do your thing, go back to mine. No need for summertime Facebook statuses or Instagrams or whatever.”
Saying it like that left Trev painfully aware he was basically recruiting someone to pretend not just to date him but to be his friend. Loser
Lee pushed his food aside and leaned in like he wanted some privacy for what he was going to say. At least he wasn’t scoffing at Trev. “I’m not out to the guys. It didn’t go so well with my family, and I just… I can’t lose my friends too, you know?”
In that moment, a necklace glinted as it dropped from Lee’s shirt. A tiny gold cross swung daintily at the end of the chain.
Queer, closeted, and Christian. That explained so much.
And made this so much more complicated.
Trev nodded and pulled back to meet Lee’s gaze. “I got you. Look, are you sure you’re comfortable with this? Being seen with me is not going to look good for your jock cred. I’m not exactly femme, but I’m definitely not a dudebro, and I’m out. I’m so out that I write papers about being queer. I’m involved in four different campus societies for equality and LGBT causes in lieu of having a social life. I’m going to be a rights lobbyist when I graduate.”
“They’ll razz me or whatever, but it’s not like they hate gay people. I mean, I don’t think so.” Lee frowned and looked down at the table, clearly worried, though he seemed to be trying to play it off. He shrugged. “I like femme guys.”
Lee looked away and smiled at the waitress, who appeared visibly relieved Lee was once again cheery. Returning his attention to Trev, Lee grinned. “Wait, so you do all that, and you say shit like cerulean in front of your parents, and they don’t get that you’re queer?”
“Right?” Trev gestured with both hands and rolled his eyes. “They still think it’s a phase. I had a girlfriend in high school that they fucking adored, and they wanted us to get married, but seriously? We were eighteen. She went to school on the West Coast—Stanford—and I mean…” He shrugged. “So now they think that anything I do at college is just a phase, just me sowing wild oats. It’s going to take a serious relationship for them to believe I’m queer, and that’s where you come in.”
“Yeah, I had something similar. A girl and all, though… I mean, I like girls, just not, you know.” Lee looked down at the table and drummed his fingers again. It didn’t look like he really wanted to talk about his personal situation. “You think if she hadn’t gone to school on the West Coast, you’d still be together?”
“No. We’d still be friends—we are
still friends—but we both had a lot to learn about ourselves. Who I was freshman year when I came here and who I am now, going into the summer before senior year… Completely different people. These are our formative years. We’re changing every day, growing, expanding our horizons and our understanding of both ourselves and our worlds.” Guilt gnawed at Trev, but he was only being honest, and if Lee was queer too, maybe it would help him to hear someone else say it. “Being on your own, at college, away from your family… It’s the first time you get a chance to be your own man. To explore sex and love and all your ideas about who you could be if you were given the chance. It’s opportunity for reinvention.”
Trev scrubbed at his stubble with one hand to help him think. These things were huge, taking up space inside him like balloons about to burst, but they were difficult to articulate. “I wasn’t this guy in high school. I was a prep-school kid, in pressed shirts and shiny loafers. I had a modest haircut, contacts, and played a lot of tennis when I wasn’t volunteering at my parents’ church. This is the person I’ve made myself. This is the guy who was trapped inside that boy. I’m still roughhewn. I’m not finished yet. But I’m on my way, and the only relationships I want are with people who will help me become all I want to be.”
Which was why Trev was alone. Why he might always be alone. Why he’d make do with drunken hookups. He had a bar so high no one could vault it, but he knew if he didn’t hold on to that standard, he’d resent settling for the rest of his life.
“Ah, okay. I see.” Lee’s tone was off, weirdly final, and while Trev had hoped to inspire Lee or make him open up, Lee seemed to shut down instead as he pulled his lunch in front of him. The jovial demeanor evaporated.
Maybe Lee was just processing what Trev had said, but Trev had the feeling he might have stepped in it. What could he say to make it better? Without knowing what went wrong, he was at a loss.
They finished their lunch in silence.
* * * *
Michelle had an off-campus apartment, and she was holding on to some of Lee’s things for him, which was great, because Trev’s 1974 E-type Jaguar didn’t have much room for luggage. Movers would put Trev’s remaining stuff into storage until he came back in fall to move into his new apartment. For the summer, he’d packed his favorite items. The rest he could buy from the resort town near the lake house or online when he got to Vermont.
Michelle hovered as Trev put his leather duffel into the turquoise convertible’s tiny trunk next to the car cover. “This is so exciting. I can’t believe you’re actually going through with this.”
Trev shot her a weary look. “Michelle, Shelly, Shell, babe, honey. I am the king of follow-through. You should see my golf game.” He mimed swinging a club and winked at her. “Of crazy shit I’ve tried to pull in my brief lifetime, this doesn’t crack the top five. Ten, yes. Five, no.”
She swatted his arm and grinned. “It’s great you’re both getting something out of this. I know you’re going to love Lee. You will. He’s the greatest. My best, best friend. Well, so is Yumi, but she doesn’t count for purposes of this conversation.” Michelle narrowed her eyes at him. “Don’t tell her I said that.”
“I don’t talk to Yumi outside of class. I will never have occasion to tattle on your disloyal ass.” Trev surveyed the area for Lee’s golden hair. As tall as Lee was, he should be easy to spot. He wasn’t due for another five minutes, but Trev was eager to get on the road. It was already almost lunchtime.
“Okay. Now, be good. Be courteous and mindful and thoughtful of him. He’s more tender-hearted than you’d think.”
Trev suppressed a laugh. “Yes, Mother.”
She swatted him again and then squealed and pointed across the lot. “There he is!” She jumped up and down, waving like a lunatic. “Lee! Lee! Over here!”
“As if he can’t see the car.” Trev pretended to be put out, but in reality he was a stomach-churning combo of nervous and amused.
“Like he can’t see your shirt
. What is life? What are you even doing with yourself?” Michelle plucked at the asymmetrical hem of Trev’s oversize, bright orange summer-weight sweater.
“Stop that. Hands off the couture.” He smacked her fingers away and then cleared his throat to collect himself as Lee approached. “So, Lee, It’s about five hours’ drive. I thought we’d stop on the way to pick up some snacks. You ready for this?”
“Don’t you mean, ‘You ready for this, schnookums
?’” Michelle looked between them with what was probably meant to be a smirk but looked far too joyous.
“Yes, Michelle, that’s exactly
what I meant.” Trev gave her side-eye and then batted his lashes at Lee. “Are you ready, darling
Since the diner, things had been strained and silent. Levity was direly needed. Trev wasn’t going to survive the summer if Lee stayed weirdly distant and solemn.
“Of course, sweetie.” Lee winked at Trev. Then with great warmth, he held out his arms to Michelle. “There’s my girlfriend. I can’t believe I’m not your
pretend lover this summer.”
Michelle practically dived into his arms and was swallowed up by a bear hug so thorough that he lifted her from the ground and spun in a circle. “I knooow. Damn you for not having a passport.” She beamed as he gently released her.
“Yeah, damn me.” Lee sighed wistfully, and it wasn’t hard to see why his friends could believe Michelle was his girlfriend. He had such clear fondness for her. “But hey, at least I’m doing some good this summer, trolling parents for Trev.”
Lee pulled the long strap of his duffel bag off his shoulder and dropped the bag in the trunk. “Good thing I pack light.” He glanced at Trev. “Nice sweater.”
“Thanks.” Trev forced a smile. How the hell were he and Lee supposed to feign that kind of warmth in front of his family? That was the kind of affection that made people believe in love. Trev had never had that with anyone, not even his high school girlfriend. He couldn’t imagine it.
It looked fun, though.
Trev shut the trunk and then turned to wrap Michelle in a brief embrace. He kissed her temple. “Thank you for everything. Have fun with your family.”
She kissed the corner of his mouth and then shooed him away. “Take care of my loverboy, Trev. He’s one of a kind!”
“You know I will.” Trev bit his lip and palmed his keys, heading for the driver’s side. The convertible top was down, the sun was shining… Everything was in order.
He climbed in and waited for Lee and Michelle to say their final good-byes. In the meantime, he plugged his phone into the car stereo, recently updated when his parents gave him the vintage ride as his high school graduation gift. As Beach House’s latest album poured from the speakers, seeming appropriate to the day, he realized he knew nothing about Lee’s preferences.
Would his parents believe they’d spent the past six months so busy having sex that they’d just never talked? Lee was definitely attractive enough.
He watched Michelle and Lee in the rearview mirror. They kissed on the lips, brief and friendly, and then she said something that made him look chastened. He looked down and away and nodded.
Did Lee regret agreeing to go? This would blow up spectacularly if they couldn’t pull it together.
Clancy Nacht & Thursday Euclid