“Talk to me, darling. How can I help if I don’t know what’s going on?”
She swallowed, licking dry lips and ducking her head to shield her gaze from his. “It’s hard to talk about.”
“Even to me? You know you can tell me anything. Even if you choose not to.” He couldn’t quench the bitterness laced in that last statement.
She flashed a wary look at him, hearing it and fielding it aside at the same time. “This is…” She rubbed her temple. “It’s hard to discuss.”
Josh frowned, and he strode off to the back wall of the room where a decorative chair stood between two windows that overlooked the yard and provided the room with its sunny light.
He dragged the chair over to her desk, settled it beside her, took a seat, then reached for her hands. “Talk to me, Gia. Let me help. I want…” A shaky sigh rushed from him. “I need to help. If I can’t do that, then I feel useless.”
“How did you know you were gay?”
That had him blinking at her. His mouth gaped a little, and after he’d cleared his throat, he murmured, “Is this about a plot point for one of your books?”
The question surged from him without thinking, and she jerked her hands from his. “I would never use something private and personal from either you or Luke in one of my books.”
He grimaced. “I never actually thought you would. I just wondered if that’s why you wanted to know.”
“No, it isn’t.” She sniffed. “I was curious.”
“You’ve never been curious before.”
“It’s never popped into my head before. The status quo has always kept me busy enough, but recently, I’ve been thinking about the past. It made me wonder.”
“Have you asked Lucas?”
She shook her head. “No. Not really. But I already know he’s different from you from other things he’s said.”
“What do you mean?” He knew exactly what she meant; after all, he and Luke had discussed the differences in their sexuality often enough. Especially when Gia had popped into their world. But it surprised him to realize that Gia knew he and Luke weren’t the same.
The thought almost made him snort, because no two people were the same. Still, he was curious about what she really knew and what she didn’t.
“I know Luke is more bi than you.”
“Did he tell you that?”
“He told me about a couple of his past relationships. I could sense that he was happy, equally, with either sex. Any happiness or discontent came from the individuals, and it had nothing to do with sexuality, if that makes sense.”
Luke’s relationships had broken up mostly because of his dedication to the armed forces.
A lot of people couldn’t handle the hours needed on the job, the deployments that took a loved one to the most dangerous parts of the world and threw them into the thick of the deadliest of war zones.
Back in the day, when the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy had been in full swing, Luke’s relationships with other men had also had that difficulty to contend with. Plus, Luke had only come out to his parents when he and Josh had hooked up, though he’d pretty much lived openly as a bisexual man.
Relationships were tough enough without throwing those difficulties into the mix.
“But, whenever you’ve talked about the past, you’ve only talked about boyfriends.”
He grimaced. “The few girlfriends I had didn’t make me happy.”
“Why?” There was a genuine curiosity to her question. She wasn’t prying and poking for the sake of it. She was simply asking. He felt certain she needed to know so she could understand him better.
That distinction made it difficult for him not to answer. He would have liked to keep that time in his life buried because he’d been miserable, but how could he not answer when she wanted to know him more? He was chiding her for her secrets. It would be hypocritical in the extreme to withhold this information from her.
“Because I was living a lie by being with them.”
“You hadn’t come out to your parents?”
He grunted. “I hadn’t come out to anyone.” A shudder crawled down his spine as he remembered his first girlfriend. They’d been prom king and queen together. Everyone had thought they’d be the class sweethearts, that they’d get married after school, go the whole hog with Josh packing in West Point to stay in his hometown to be with her.
All the time he’d been living that picture-perfect romance, he’d been miserable as sin.
Thinking back to that time made him want to tear up, pathetic though he felt it was. He’d had no choice but to keep it all together then. No one in his circle had known his secret, and he’d entrusted it to no one either. But now, he had Gia, and he had Luke. Even his deepest, darkest secrets were safe in their care.
It was such a contrast to the Josh of senior year in high school that he wanted to cry for that boy. He wanted to hug him, to tell him that it would
get better, that everything would sort itself out. And that ultimately, he’d find not one but two loves that would make his world a better, brighter, happier place.
“Hey,” she murmured. “I’ve lost you.” She reached forward and scooped up his hand in hers again. She squeezed his fingers.
He gulped. “They weren’t good times. And I’m talking longer than a fifteen-year period.” He sank back into his seat. “I had an image to maintain. I couldn’t be gay. It wasn’t done back then.”
“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. It’s just how it was. People still have problems with gay folk, but at least now, they know there are some
repercussions for discrimination. Back then, it felt like there were no repercussions. I remember the first time I bought a gay magazine. It was in a porn shop, and even the guy behind the counter in a fucking porn shop stared at me like I was a goddamn pervert.” He cringed. “That was the only release I had. That one magazine. I didn’t dare buy any more. If I had, I was scared my mom would find it. I stashed regular porn in places I figured she would find it. You know, to keep her off the scent?”
“Do you think they’d have had a problem with it back then? Your parents and your sisters, I mean?”
He nodded. “I do.”
“But they seem okay with it now, don’t they? I mean, look at your sister. She’s in a similar relationship to us now, right?”
“Time heals all wounds,” he retorted wryly. “They’ve accepted it because they love me, but they don’t have to like it. Same goes with my sister.”
“Isn’t that what any parent does when faced with a choice their child makes? Accept it because they love them?”
That made him snort. “You think it was my choice to like guys?” He huffed. “I’d have given anything to find women attractive. Anything, Gia. I had it all. I was class valedictorian, the quarterback on the varsity football team, and the prom king. I was like something from a fucking teen romcom. I made Freddie Prinze Jr. look like an underachiever! I had the prom queen on my arm, and we were deliriously in love according to the rest of our class. I’ve never been so fucking miserable in all my life. They were the worst of it.
“By senior year, I’d figured out what was the matter with me. It was hard for me to get an erection with my girlfriend. I thought there was something wrong with me and then, when I was jacking off one day, I stopped thinking about Brooke Shields for a second, and Harrison Ford popped into my head.” His cheeks flushed as he remembered the shame of that time. “God, I came hard. You wouldn’t believe it. Even jacking off hadn’t been easy until then.”
“Your girlfriend didn’t suspect?”
He laughed. “She thought I was sweet. I didn’t push her for sex. We waited quite a while, and she thought it was because I was wonderful and that I respected her. I just wanted nothing to do with her. I even hated kissing her, so thinking about fucking her had been like a nightmare.” Josh could remember how she’d made his skin crawl, and shivered at the memory. “Keeping it a secret was all you could do back then. At least, that’s how it felt to me. Unless you went to the big cities and lived entirely independently and in the scene. Maybe I’m wrong, but that was my experience. I didn’t want to live in the scene, though. I wanted a regular life. As regular as it could be, anyway, when you’re married to the forces too.”
“When you left home, did it get easier?”
“Not really. Moving to New York was both a blessing and a curse. You have to understand, I wasn’t the sort
. I was the blue-eyed boy. The golden child of my year. Like I’d been in high school. I was popular, had a lot of friends, a lot of people who wanted to be with me. When I went out, it was always in a large group. Sneaking off by myself was tough, and it was nearly impossible finding someone to hook up with. When I eventually did, it was like coming home, but I’d never felt as fucking dirty in my life.”
“Because it was the opposite of what I’d had with my girlfriend. I hadn’t wanted Janey, and touching her intimately had made me feel sick, truth be told. But she’d loved me, and I’d loved her—as a friend. We’d gelled perfectly. She made me laugh, and I made her happy. We were good together. But that first time with a guy, it was the antithesis of that. Janey liked to snuggle after sex. I hated how she seemed to have eight freaking arms and legs, and how they seemed to get everywhere. It irritated me like hell, but I’d gotten used to it. When sex felt more like a transaction, I felt dirty, and that marred it for me.”
“Did you keep on trying with other women?”
Somehow, he sensed that question was important. He frowned at her, trying to figure out why. When he came to no conclusion, he shrugged and thought back to his twenties. Calculating roughly, he said, “I had at least four more girlfriends, and I used to hook up with women from time to time. I went through a lot of phases, Gia. I wanted to change. I didn’t want to be gay. It was only when I met Luke that I finally realized I was happy with what I was because he made me see past the label. It didn’t matter that he was a man. I wanted him. He owned my heart, and I owned his.”
A tender smile graced her lips. “That’s beautiful.”
He felt his ears burn. “It’s the truth,” he mumbled gruffly, ducking his head.
“And that’s exactly what makes it beautiful.” She pursed her lips a second. “Why don’t I repulse you, Josh? What’s different about me compared to your other girlfriends?”
He paused at that, knowing how vital it was that he answer this well. “I guess,” he started. “It’s like it was with Luke. It doesn’t matter that you’re a woman. You’re Gia. And you’re mine.”
She blinked. “You’re such a caveman.” Laughter poured from her.