I expected the next three days to drag by, but before I knew it Friday night was upon me. I cleaned the place as if Miss Manners herself were visiting. I think it was the first time in the three years I'd lived there that the carpet under the couch felt the tug of the vacuum. I threw out stuff from my fridge that hadn't even turned green yet. As I contemplated life from behind the toilet bowl, I realized that living alone as a grown man wasn't much different than living with roommates as a young man. Ugh.
Saturday morning found me at the grocery store, stocking up on a variety of beverages, alcoholic and non-, as well as snacks, healthy and not. I had no idea, of course, what Michael liked, and I wanted to be prepared.
I put fresh sheets on the bed and stacked clean towels in the bathrooms. Because I was always so thorough in my cleaning.
I thought the best place to work would be the kitchen table. My large country kitchen had been created out of two smallish rooms. The farmhouse table was big enough to spread out full sets of blue prints, as well as the other paperwork I pulled from the Roswell Burns file. The kitchen was also a nonthreatening kind of space. I thought if I sat next to Michael on the couch, I might be tempted to touch him in ways he might not appreciate. I felt unusually conflicted; I was attracted to Michael on a sexual level, yes, but I also itched to learn more about him. I enjoyed our dinner and conversation, and I thought I got a similar vibe from him. I worried that I might do something that would scare him away.
At noon I sat on the couch of temptation, looked around at my nice and shiny abode, and reveled in my domestic dorkiness.
At two o'clock I woke up to a ringing in my ears...no, the doorbell. Jesus H. Christ, I'd fallen asleep. I stumbled to the foyer and swung open the door. There was Michael on my front porch, backpack over one shoulder, six-pack of Yuengling in hand. He stood in that sideways way people use when they're at the door but don't want to stare at it. He seemed to be checking out the sugar maple tree that lorded over the front of the house. He wore straight-leg jeans and a brown T-shirt with a faded design down one side. The sun brought out red and gold highlights in his hair. It was banded at the nape of his neck, which accentuated his jawline. Either he'd recently shaved or his beard wasn't heavy--the skin of his face lacked any sign of stubble. He was, quite possibly, the most beautiful man I'd ever seen.
I felt like Quasimodo on a bad-hair day.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” I replied.
“Um...” He scratched the back of his neck and looked at me through his eyelashes. “You gonna let me in?”
“What? Oh, yeah, come on in.” I stepped out of his way and realized I needed to dispel the fog surrounding my brain. “Listen, I took an unplanned nap on the couch, so do you mind if I take a minute to regroup?”
Michael chuckled. “No, go ahead. I've been there.”
“Thanks.” I pointed toward the kitchen. “You can go on in there. I've laid out everything I thought would be helpful. Make yourself at home. There are snacks in the fridge. Bottle opener is in that top drawer. I won't be long.”
I went to the bathroom, splashed cold water on my face, brushed my teeth, and studied my face in the mirror. I had showered and shaved earlier, but I couldn't do much about my hair at this point. I ran my fingers through and got the strands corralled. Okay, so maybe not Quasimodo. I traded my wrinkled T-shirt for a clean blue one, a little voice in the back of my mind suggesting it would bring out the blue in my eyes.
When I returned to the kitchen, Michael looked up from poring over the blueprints. “Feel better?”
He smiled and offered me one of the beers he'd brought. I took it and put the rest of them in the refrigerator. I sat in the chair next to his, took a long sip from the bottle, and said, “Okay, let's get to work.”
We got lost in planning the adventures of the Young Architects Club. We slid easily into the jargon of each other's fields of expertise, batted ideas back and forth like badminton shuttlecocks, and finished each other's sentences. He was almost constantly in motion: jiggling his leg, pacing, tapping a pen. It made me feel uncannily calm, and I wasn't usually one to sit still. We had a few beers. Somewhere along the way, he dumped his backpack out, rifled through the mess, and withdrew his planning calendar.
The pile from the backpack was an interesting assortment of things: tins of charcoals and pastels, pencils of different sizes, crumpled papers, an orange, several sketch pads, an iPod, headphones, tubes of acrylics, a six-inch wooden manikin, and a notebook computer.
The whole thing reminded me of Mary Poppins's carpetbag. “If I stuck my arm in your backpack, would I pull up a hat rack?”
He didn't bat an eye. “No, but you might get a floor lamp.”
Michael used the computer to make notes and write an outline of our plan. His fingers flew over the keyboard. When I tried to think, my eyes were drawn to his hands, and thoughts of architecture were replaced with thoughts of what those hands would feel like... I had to get up and move around the room in order to speak coherent sentences.
Eventually, my stomach pointed out that I hadn't eaten yet by growling loud enough to be heard in New Jersey. Michael stopped typing and tilted his head to listen.
“Sorry,” I said. “Snack time?”
“Good idea.” He closed the laptop, set it off to the side, and stretched his arms toward the ceiling. My mouth watered when his stretch exposed a strip of skin at the bottom of his shirt. I turned rapidly toward the fridge and stuck my head in, hoping the cold would wash all the way to my cock.
“Do you feel like veggies and dip, or chips and salsa?” I yelled from the bowels of my Amana.
“Definitely chips and salsa.” His voice sounded from right next to me, and I nearly gave myself a concussion when I jumped. My scowl was lost on him; he only grinned at me when I straightened up. I handed him the salsa, and he poured it in a bowl while I dumped the chips into a basket. We each grabbed another beer and returned to the table, sitting at the far end away from the mass of papers strewn about. Michael turned his chair to face out toward the deck. Our conversation turned from our project to other topics.
I discovered, among other things, that he was originally from western Pennsylvania, had two sisters and a brother, graduated from my alma mater--Penn State--with a major in art education and a minor in graphic design, and at twenty-six, was six years younger than me. He learned that I was born not far from right here, my mother died when I was ten, my favorite thing to do was design buildings and landscapes, and gardening was a stress-relieving hobby.
I was just about to ask him about the kind of music he liked when I noticed a glop of salsa at the corner of his mouth. “You've got some, um, salsa, there.” I tried to point without pointing, to, you know, be polite.
“Where?” He rubbed at the wrong side of his mouth.
“No, the other side.”
He wiped a spot on his cheek. “Did I get it?”
“Here,” I said and scooped the offending sauce off with my thumb, which somehow then ended up in his mouth.
I watched with fascination as he sucked gently, pulling the digit in, swirling his tongue around it, his eyes closed as if this were the best thing he'd ever tasted. My other fingers rested on his face, feeling the suction through his cheek. He pulled back and opened his eyes; I got lost in them for a minute. When I moved my hand to the back of his neck and drew him to me, he gave no resistance. Our lips met, flavored with salt and salsa. We shared a series of little kisses, tasting each other gently.
He had turned his chair around, and we sat facing each other. His hands rested on my biceps, and my hands slid to his chest--where they noticed that Michael did have more interesting piercings.
The soft little kisses grew stronger. The more I had, the more I wanted.
Without moving his lips away, Michael said, “I've wanted to kiss you since I met you.”
“So kiss me,” I mumbled back.
I caught his tongue with mine and sucked on it, a hopeful foreshadowing of events to follow. He pulled on my bottom lip with his teeth. The frenzy meter ratcheted up, our lips and tongues exploring, probing, claiming. I felt his hand in my hair, and my own hand twisted his shirt. Breathing became a secondary need, behind tasting. When air proved to be necessary, we slid back into short, small kisses. It didn't take long for me to feel refreshed, and I plunged back into kissing him deeply, rolling my tongue across and under his teeth. He groaned when I held his face between my palms and bit lightly at his lips. He tried to take back control, but I couldn't get enough of tasting him.
His tug on my hair pulled me away enough to look in his eyes. “Dylan,” he whispered.
“Shh,” I said. “A moment.” We were still, just breathing, and I could feel the reverberation of each kiss.
He gave me that moment; then he leaned back. “Wow.” His hands slipped away from my shoulders as he stood up. He walked to the sliding glass door and leaned against the jamb, staring out across the hills. This did not seem like a good sign to me. I didn't know if I should follow or back away. I opted for the middle road, stood up but stayed near my chair. He turned toward me.
“I...that was...” He shook his head. “I've never been kissed like that.”
“That makes two of us. Why are you over there?”
He looked out the window again. “I'm overwhelmed. This wasn't what I expected.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“Neither. Both. I'm not sure.” He crossed the room to where his belongings were piled. “I have to go... I need to think.”
“Michael, no. I want you to stay.” This time I did follow him, stopping just within reach. He threw his things into the backpack. I grabbed his hands to hold them still. “Listen. I maybe didn't do this right. I moved too fast.” He stared up at me, waiting. “I like you, and I don't want to screw this up.” I thought about the different men I'd been with and how everything with them happened so fast because there was so little time for it. I realized I was walking new ground, here. “I'm sorry I scared you.”
He clenched my hands. “No...don't...I think I scared myself. You remember I told you about the relationship I'd been in?”
“When I left, I promised myself that I would not jump into another one. I can't do things part way.” He let go of me, and his pacing emphasized the words he spoke quietly. “Tim--my ex--and I, we were together almost a year, and I completely misread him. I was so excited about our being together--I was looking at houses and furniture, but he was looking at other men. Our arguments left me realizing that I expected too much--made too many big plans. Tim said some cruel things to me, but he made me think about not only ours, but other relationships I'd been in. I leap too quickly. I can't trust myself.” He stopped moving, shrugged, and gave a little unhappy laugh. “My mom used to tell me I was too passionate about, well, everything. My brother used to tell me I was a nervous breakdown waiting to happen.”
He suddenly looked so very young. I felt like a lecher. I wanted to rewind back to where we were building a friendship. Before I could say anything, he continued.
“I thought I'd learned my lesson, but you were so unexpected. And it threw me.”
I've been called a lot of things, but “unexpected” was a new one. “I'm not sure I'm following you.”
His pacing brought him to the opposite side of the table. He leaned on it. “I never expected that I would find anyone like you in this place. You're smart. Funny. Kind. Gorgeous. I've been thinking about that kiss for so long, I was sure the reality would never live up to the fantasy. I was wrong. It was better.”
I stood speechless. No one had ever said anything like that to me. I replayed his words in my head a few times so I wouldn't forget them.
A sigh came from deep in his chest as he shoved his belongings into his bag. “It scares the shit out of me.” He zipped up the backpack and headed to the front door.
I tried to shake off the fog that was swirling around my head and stopped him with my hand on his arm. “Wait. Can't we work through this together?”
“I just need a little time. I don't want to go into anything blinded by my fantasies. And I don't want to ruin something with exploding baggage before it begins.” A look of fear passed over his face. “Oh, God, have I ruined it already?”
I was too flummoxed to answer anything with conviction. “No, no, you haven't ruined it. I think we both have baggage we need to unpack.”
Michael gave me a shaky smile and reached up to kiss me on the cheek. As he opened the door and stepped out, he said, “I will call you. I know that sounds stupid, but I promise I will.”
Before I could think of anything else to say, he was gone.